According to the Associated Press, Saudi King Abdullah, in an unprecedented move last week, "made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews" — going so far as to refer to the latter two as "our brothers." The Jerusalem Post states that such talks would be geared to developing "respect among religions."
The Arabian kingdom, however, is famous for tenaciously upholding and exporting "Wahhabism/Salafism," that literalist brand of Islam that preaches absolutely no tolerance — murdering apostates and condemning all non-Muslims as infidels — and famous also for having supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11, "educating" fellows such as Osama bin Laden, and boasting a sword on its national flag. One can't help but question the old monarch's motives.
More tellingly, days before the king's call for dialogue, prominent Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman Barack issued a death-fatwa against two Saudi writers. Their crime? They wrote articles in the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh questioning the Muslim position that holds all non-Muslims — whom the Saudi king would otherwise call "brothers" — as infidels. According to the Arab News, Barack said: "Anyone who claims this [that non-Muslims are not infidels] has refuted Islam and should be tried so that he can take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam."
Does this mean that King Abdullah truly believes Christians and Jews are not infidels, and if so, does that also mean a fatwa for his life is forthcoming?
At any rate, is the Saudi king aware that "dialogue" is supposed to be held by two or more singular participants who nonetheless genuinely believe that they share some basic human rights — such as the freedom to practice whatever religion they wish without being molested? Only civilized peoples who are agreed to such fundamentals can move on to more temporal matters, such as territorial disputes (e.g., Israel/Palestine). But what is the point of having "dialogue" over secondary matters when the primary issues — basic human rights — are not endorsed by all participants?
In Saudi Arabia, the facts remain: native citizens who dare convert to Christianity must be slain; absolutely no churches or any other "symbol" of non-Muslim worship (e.g., crosses, rosaries, Bibles) is permitted on the peninsula; non-Muslims are barred from entering Mecca or Medina.
These are just the visible forms of intolerance practiced in the home of Islam and its founder. Theoretically — or rather, theologically — speaking, the worldview of Wahhabism/Salafism is even worse: whenever the opportunity presents itself, the whole world must be brought under Islamic rule, either willingly or by the sword, following the pattern of the Islamic prophet and the first "righteous" caliphs. What is even more troubling is that this Muslim view of world conquest isn't merely a product of certain obscurantist schools of Islamic thought; rather it is the codified worldview of all four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. In fact, it is a communal duty (a fard kifaya) imposed on Muslims.
So where exactly does Abdullah get the gall to call for "dialogue"? The measure of any community's sincerity and tolerance toward nonmembers is how well that community treats nonmembers under its suzerainty. The West treats all religions roughly equally (in fact, Christianity often seems to be the most under attack).
In the United States, for example, Muslim minorities have the exact same rights — to build places of worship (mosques), publicly carry their scriptures (Korans), to worship and proselytize, and, simply, to be Muslim — as do Christians and others. That is proof that the West is prepared for dialogue over ancillary matters: it has already visibly demonstrated that it firmly believes all humans are guaranteed basic rights.
Countries like Saudi Arabia evince no respect for basic human rights and freedoms. The contrast is amply demonstrated by the recent comments of one high ranking Saudi who said that "It would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church [note the singular] in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian churches recognize the prophet Muhammad" — which of course would make all Christians Muslim. How would Muslims react to a requirement that, to build mosques in the U.S., they must first publicly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
Perhaps the greatest proof that the old king was being insincere is the fact that, in his ostensibly "multi-culti" speech, polytheists are conspicuously left out. Abdullah continuously stressed that this dialogue is to be only with "our brothers in all religions which I mentioned, the Torah [Jews] and the Gospels [Christians]." If the Saudi king was honestly trying to promote religious tolerance around the world, why weren't polytheists invited to the talks? Specifically, why weren't Hindus invited, who also have a long and often bloody history with Islam, including territorial disputes (e.g., Kashmir) that continue to this day?
The theological reason is that polytheists ("al-mushrikun") are held in an even worse position than Christians and Jews (whom the Koran refers alternatively to as "people of the Book," but in the latter chapters and verses — which take precedence, according to most systems of Islamic jurisprudence — as "infidels" who must be fought in perpetuity). So while Abdullah's "brothers," Jews and Christians, can in fact keep their religion (once subdued and made to live according to second-class, "dhimmi" status), polytheists must either convert, or die.
It is impossible to see the Saudi king's motives in this monotheistic-faith ecumenism as completely sincere. His "impassioned plea for dialogue" is certainly worthy of support. However, the starting point of that discussion must be the Muslim world's treatment of the non-Muslims in their midst. Once Saudi Arabia affords basic human rights to Christians and Jews — not to mention Saudi citizens who wish to convert — then dialogue over secondary matters can ensue. Until then, the Saudis have no place at the negotiation table.